What is a ghost writer?

by Grace Carter | 7 min read

While it may be the time of all things spooky, you will be pleased to hear that being a ghost writer doesn’t involve sitting at your desk producing articles while covered in a white sheet and muttering ‘oooh’ at periodic intervals. Neither does it involve scaring the living daylights out of anyone you meet, or hovering around and levitating.

What is a ghost writer?

Simply put, being a ghost writer involves writing copy – whether that is a blog, article, web page, leaflet, book, e-mail, or just about any other kind of written material you can think of – on behalf of someone else without your name being published alongside it.

You’ll probably be familiar with the concept of ghost writing through books and autobiographies written by celebrities, in which they have employed someone else to work alongside them to produce engaging, well-formed copy.

The reality is that for many people, they want to write their ideas down into perfect and poetic prose but often just don’t have the time, skill or inclination to be able to do so.

Ghost writers are skilled wordsmiths who are able to do this on their behalf. They can take rough briefs, words or topics and turn them into the exact product that was desired, but often for half the time and energy. It’ll also be more successful in the long run because of the mastery that goes into producing it.

Why become a ghost writer?

Many people wonder why on earth anyone would ever want to be a ghost writer if it means not getting any credit for the work that you have produced. Of course, overcoming the fact that you won’t be getting any of the glory for that perfectly crafted metaphor or intriguing plot frame can be frustrating. It is, however, a hurdle that must be overcome in order to succeed as a ghost writer – and often as a professional writer too.

Part of the lure of becoming a ghost writer is the fact that it can be financially lucrative. At the end of the day, having your name next to an article won’t pay your household bills or put food on the table. It may feel nice, it may leave you with a warm glow every time you look at it, and it may be particularly great for your portfolio to show your range of skills.

However, unless you are a well-known writer, it’ll typically go unnoticed by the vast majority of readers anyhow. Do they really care quite in the same way as you do? The harsh truth is, probably not!

Writer Andrew Crofts notes, “As to not getting the ‘glory’ of being the sole author, anyone who is not a celebrity and has had a book published will know how fleeting the glory is. Only the smallest percentage of books get reviewed. Most vanish completely from the shelves within a few months of publication, and are usually pretty hard to find even during those few months. Apart from a handful of literary stars, (many of whom choose to write under pseudonyms anyway), few people recognise the names of authors.”

Writing for book publishers

Book publishers have a voracious audience to satisfy and often want to put the top brands or influencers at the top of their publishing list in order to get the most publicity and sales. You may find when writing as yourself that you struggle to get any of your pitches noticed in comparison to someone from the television.

Writing for business

Additionally, many businesses are willing to pay writers to write content on behalf of their company. Typically, they’ll be looking to publish these articles on their blog in order to boost their SEO ranking, increase site traffic, produce content for their social media, and raise brand awareness. They often won’t have a team of writers able to help them though.

Unless you have a specific, vested interest in the industry they’re operating in, it often won’t actually make any difference to you whether you produce this copy with your name alongside it or not. However, you will get paid for this – often consistently and at a good rate. This makes becoming a ghost writer much more lucrative, and also ensures you are getting paid for your skills.

Making money from ghost writing

When you seek to write opinion-led pieces or articles for newspapers, typically you’ll find you don’t get paid. Often they just expect you to take great satisfaction in seeing your name in black and white. However, with commercial copy, you can actually make a living from it.

Being a ghost writer can help to quell – in fact, smash – the stereotype that writing is a dead career in which you spend your life eating jam sandwiches, putting pen to paper by candlelight as you have no electricity, and are always wearing clothes with holes in because you can’t afford to replace them. Through ghost writing, there is plenty of money to be made.

Sure you won’t get the fleeting glory of seeing your name on the cover of a book, but that’s not to say you will disappear into obscurity. In many cases, you will still be able to use the pieces you have written as examples of your work in the case of putting a portfolio together (NB: You may need to obscure details of the client if you have a contract in place).

Finding recognition

You may often find that you’re also able to get your name included in smaller credits within books or web pages, in which you don’t feature as the heavyweight title but still get enough of a reference to lay your claim to fame with the piece. If you’re particularly lucky, you may also get featured as a co-author – although this won’t always get picked up by other people when writing about your work.

Alongside these benefits, as a ghost writer you will also get the chance to write about a range of topics that you may otherwise never get to publish on. This includes interviewing hugely interesting people and asking questions you’d never otherwise get to ask, or getting to cover a wealth of subjects to keep your job diverse and interesting.

As Demian Farnworth writes for Raven Tools, “You can get a free education as a ghostwriter if you research and write about a new field. I got an accelerated MBA in new media marketing during my time as a ghostwriter.”

The benefits of ghost writing

Through ghost writing, you have a licence to learn just about any topic you fancy, and can get legitimately paid for it. Unless you’re a big shot author, no one actually pays all that much attention to who has written something anyway – so it means earning an income, getting to do what you love, and just leaving the glory to sit within the words themselves.

Writer David Jacoby comments, “Some of the best and most rewarding writing I’ve done has been ghost, because (in my case, anyway) the LACK of a byline allows my normally rather, ahem, obnoxious ego to take a nap. You don’t have to worry about taking the public criticism of your content. You just write.” It’s multifaceted, creative and ultimately hugely interesting!

Main image credit: Jordi Carrasco

Images credits: Ivan TPatrick FellerDavid Flores

Grace Carter

Grace Carter

Grace is a seasoned copywriter with editorial experience for a number of publications. She joined Copify in 2017 and has written about the arts, travel, fashion, health and marketing.